Welcome truce

A ceasefire agreement has brought to an end to armed hostilities between Israel and Hamas. While it will give ordinary Gazans some respite from relentless shelling, how long it will hold is anybody’s guess. Both sides have claimed victory. What Israel achieved through its brutal assault on Gaza is unclear. Its strikes might have weakened Hamas militarily by destroying several of its weapons caches. However, the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza and the high Palestinian civilian toll will enhance Hamas’ popularity among the Palestinian people. The week-long hostilities have underscored the futility of military means to resolve outstanding issues. This is an important lesson that both Israel and Hamas need to heed. Despite his rocky relationship with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US president Barack Obama rallied to express support to his decision to initiate military operations on Gaza. This emboldened Israel.

 The truce provides Obama space to correct that wrong approach. It provides him an opening to nudge Israel to the talks table. Roughly 70 per cent of the American Jewish population is believed to have voted for Obama in the recent presidential election, which means that his endorsement of a two-state solution and adoption of a tough stance vis-a-vis Netanyahu prior to the recent Israeli aggression enjoys support among the powerful Jewish community in the US. Many in Israel too support this solution. Thus in his second term, Obama must press ahead with making this two-state solution a reality.

The Gaza ceasefire has brought Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi into the limelight. Once reviled by Israel and the US as an ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ Morsi became acceptable to them as a truce broker not because of a new trust of the Egyptian president but a realisation that he is their best bet to prevail on Hamas to halt the rocket attacks on Israel. Unlike his predecessor Hosni Mubarak who aligned with Israel during its previous Gaza offensive, Morsi kept the Gaza crossing into Egypt partially open during the hostilities, thus providing Palestinians and Hamas activists an escape route into Egypt. Morsi must use leverage over Hamas to push them to talk to Israel. Egypt’s credibility as a truce broker rests on its capacity to rein in Hamas. If the ceasefire unravels, Egypt’s stature will be undermined. But more importantly the space for talks will be shut.

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